It’s 10 degrees outside. It’s cold. It’s wet. The wind is blowing and the rain is puddling. Last week, it was snowing. And I was cold then, too. Two weeks ago, I was walking a beach, contemplating an ice cream. Nothing wowey there except that I hadn’t known there was a beach in Barcelona to walk on.
My geography is atrocious. I don’t give much thought to where places are situated on a world map. I’m still getting over the trauma of seeing a sign welcoming me to Europe as I drove from the airport towards Istanbul. I’d no clue where I’d been. I hadn’t even realised I’d been on another continent. It’s sad. But such is life.
I was in Barcelona a number a years ago and knew it had a harbour. And boats. Big boats. Very very big boats. Very big boats from the Cayman Islands, from Malta, from Trinidad. But I never realised it had a beach, nine of them, in fact, all blue flag beaches stretching along its 4.5 km of coastline. I think the one we hit was Barceloneta, close enough to the Olympic village. Barcelona is one of the few cities to get anything lasting from the Olympics. It got the beaches. Back in 1992. And some odd looking buildings that were used to house the athletes and administrative staff and are now housing companies and residents.
The landmark crooked tower is really an art installation commemorating the 1992 Olympics called L’Estel Ferit (the wounded star or the injured comet). Am not quite sure how it celebrates a neighbourhood that was traditionally populated by sailors. Perhaps the four steel cubes are stacked to look like a lighthouse?
But, back to the beach. It was a hive of activity. Temperatures hovered about 20 degrees and the tops were off, the legs were out, and the beach babes were bathing. Older men sat around playing dominoes as the kids climbed the climbing frame and the young hipsters pulled out the kettle bells and did their thing. The creative types were building sandcastles. Most everyone else was sipping coffee or drinking wine at one of the many beach-side cafés. We had a late breakfast at the Club Nautica Catalunya, a beach-front café with a terrace looking out onto the sea that cost an extra 10% to sit on. There’s nowt free (or very little) in this city. But it was all rather lovely.
Alongside all this activity, African traders plied their wares. Fake handbags, cotton throws and tablecloths, sunglasses – the usual fare laid neatly on white sheets. I was taken by yet another tower, this one switched LED number displays from 2016 to 2017. I looked at the numbers, 5079 and 663, respectively. And I wondered what they might relate to. They seemed a little high to be deaths at sea. But that’s what they were. I was shocked. The Barcelona shame counter started ticking in June 2016, backdated to 2015 to track the number of refugees who died trying to reach the city’s shores. Som i serem citutat refugi (We are and always will be a refugee city), it says, adding that ‘this isn’t just a number, these are people.’
A quick glance at the Barcelona Refuge City plan suggests it’s an impressive one. And yet when I saw the traders, standing with ropes wrapped around their wrists, ready to cinch their groundsheet and haul away their goods the minute the police appeared… I did wonder a little. But perhaps it’s the lot of street traders everywhere. The Barcelona boys are just better prepared.